St. Clair to Spadina Walks, Part 1
Yonge and St. Clair, a community heart?!
First time I visited Toronto, as the city I was relocating to, I surveyed the core areas of the city to pin down a favorable neighborhood for living through long walks. My visits prior to this, mostly family visits, had failed to help me accurately portrait the city in my mind. Over these first critical walks around Toronto’s downtown-midtown neighborhoods in 2011, I started to get a grasp of the city and form a personal opinion about it. I found Toronto a vibrant and desirable city to live in if one chooses the right place to live and gets to pick the route to commute to work. Within the areas I was looking, I concluded the search, having crossed out only two specific stretches in the city; Spadina Avenue, south of China town and St. Clair Avenue about its intersection with Yonge Street.
Ironically, after a few years past those walks in 2011 and a few years of living in China, I returned to Toronto not only to live on St. Clair Avenue East but to commute to Spadina and Queen to work every weekday. Naturally these daily commutes were not utterly pleasant to me. My morning and evening walks, from home on St Clair and just west of Mount Pleasant to St Clair subway station and from Osgood station to Spadina and Queen, were immensely charged with skepticism followed by curiosity. For about eighteen months, I was critically observing, studying and reimagining my 30 minutes of routine walks; the built form and its social and economic implications. I’d like to share the resulted and ongoing thoughts, comments and suggestions passing my mind, to kindle actions rectifying the issues. In form of a series of notes titled “St. Clair to Spadina”, I discuss my findings.
Yonge and St. Clair
Let’s think a minute about the natural forces or factors contributing to form a neighborhood centre or what Jane Jacobs calls ‘the natural anatomy of community hearts’. “Wherever they develop spontaneously, they are almost invariably consequences of two or more intersecting streets, well used by pedestrians”, in Jacobs’s words. In Time and Change as Neighbourhood Allies, Jacobs further adds: “Living, beating community hearts can’t be arbitrarily located. Given the anatomy of well-used pedestrian main streets, hearts locate themselves; in fact they can’t be prevented from locating themselves.”
Yonge and St. Clair certainly meets the above criteria to be a natural community heart. It’s the major intersection of mid-town Toronto for car, subway and of course pedestrian traffic. Not as busy as Yonge and Eglinton or as hasty as Yonge and Bloor, the flow and speed of pedestrian traffic is just about perfect for a community hub. In fact the intersection is a hub but a trying one or a half-failed one. I, surely not alone, find Yonge and St. Clair ugly, perturbing and insensible. But, why?
Fall of 2009